I read through dozens of incensed tweets, people alternately worried and angry about what they believed to be the end of livestreaming as we knew it. We should be worried, we should be angry.
But not about Twitch.
Twitch is just the beginning. Or, more accurately, Twitch’s acquisition is just the latest in a well established pattern that’s been developing for over a decade. There’s a bigger issue at stake here. The writing’s been on the wall this whole time, we’ve just been too stupid/distracted/complacent to realize.
For the record, I personally don’t think that this will be the end of Twitch (nor does my fellow Twinfiknight, who examines the issue more thoroughly here). Its fate is still very much up in the air but, even in the unlikely case that this means the death of livestreaming as we know it, that’s not what really matters.
It made me think of EPIC 2014, which if you haven’t seen already you can watch above (or, ironically, on YouTube). First released back in 2004, it’s a (mostly) fictional, deliberately sensationalized account of a hypothetical 2014. One not unlike our present.
Back then, it was a dystopic vision of the future, a scathing (albeit speculative) portrayal of the various New Media monopolies, and how their convergence with Web 2.0 (blogging, social media, etc.) might have disastrous consequences on journalism and society as a whole.
It gave me chills the first time I saw it. Now, 10 years later, I’m both amazed and horrified at how accurate some of its predictions were. Sure, many of the more preposterous claims didn’t pan out: The New York Times hasn’t folded (yet) and Google didn’t merge with Amazon to form the nefarious-sounding conglomerate “Googlezon.”
But these are minor details when compared with Epic 2014’s take-home message, which is just as relevant today as it was in 2004. Is Google going to literally take over the world? Probably not. But is Google a growing (and potentially dangerous) monopoly? Absolutely.
In our digital age, information is power. Scratch that, information is money (which, in turn, is power). Google, with its hands in so many proverbial cookie jars, controls the vast majority of information on the Internet, and thus holds most of the power.
Obviously, Google has a monopoly on search engines (I mean, really, who uses Bing?), but just think of all the other Google products and services we use on a daily basis and at this point couldn’t live without. Gmail, Google Maps, Google Chrome, hell, I’m using Google Docs to write this as we speak. And, if I didn’t already have an iPhone, I’d be rocking an Android device.
Since acquiring YouTube in 2006, Google has likewise held a de facto monopoly when it comes to online video sharing. One of the few pies that Google didn’t have its hands in was videogame livestreaming. At least until now.
Purchasing Twitch, from a business standpoint, was a brilliant move. In one fell swoop (and for a one-time low-cost) Google eliminated its primary competition while also securing itself a place in the livestream market. Supposedly the Justice Department is going to investigate whether this violates U.S. antitrust laws, but we’ll see.
Who else but Google could’ve bought Twitch? Google is not only a monopoly, but a monopsony, which is to say their buying power is equivalent to their market dominance. Twitch had been courted by everyone, including Microsoft, but they chose to sell to the highest bidder. Much like, I imagine, Oculus Rift and Facebook.
So, you can rest easy in the knowledge that Twitch, or Google Twitch or TwitchTube or whatever, is going to be just fine. Livestreaming will still exist, you don’t have to worry your pretty head about that. But let me reiterate, that’s not the point.
What’s more troubling, what I’m far more concerned about, is the fact that Google has successfully expanded their Internet monopoly even further.
#RIPTwitch? Please, more like #RIPMarketCompetition.
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